a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: March 2012

Friday, March 30, 2012

More Miscellany

SUMMARY: Shoes, class, serpentines, spring, flowers, wind...

Because most of our class this week is off in Reno for the AKC Nationals, there were only three of us in attendance. So I ran both Merle Girls every run. And we got more runs in, or at least more detailed work on each of the runs, because there were only 4 dogs instead of 7 or 8 or so.

You know some people say, "I don't know which dog I'll be running" when referring to a single dog? Like I used to with Remington--the fast, eager dog, or the turned off dog? Well, my dogs I think don't know what handler they're going to get. Sometimes I poop out in class just running the normal number of runs with the equivalent of only one dog. Sometimes I can run both dogs a whole lot more and still feel like I'm moving and [relatively] agile. That's how I felt tonight. I dunno why. It can vary not only from week to week, but day to day.

Boost still can't do straight-on serpentines, even though we worked on them some this week. We talked in class a little bit about starting from square one, which was a good review. Now I have 6 days in which to fix it before the 4-dayer. Heh. Well, we'll work on it.

Tika started fast and excited, but slowed down fairly quickly, and, yes, is not doing some things that in the old days I could always count on her to do. And then, poof!, just like that, she's running and then she's sniffing the ground with a little displacement/stress action going on. Ah, well, learning to handle "which dog do I have" with Tika is such a change from her normal consistent self through most of her agility career.

I wore my brand-new, actually *shiny* shoes in class tonight.

You think it was time?

I dunno, those Ditas and an identical pair lasted me collectively at least 10 years. That was large amounts of money well spent. If this new 40-buck pair from Big 5 lasts me half as long, I'll be happy.

Meanwhile, speaking of shopping, you really should never let me into the garden center when spring's around the corner. I'm just sayin'.

Although, whoa, I'm rethinking how to decorate my dog's crates in MUTTMVR. This looks pretty good!

But spring is fickle this time of year--March is trying hard to circumvent those old saws and go OUT like a lion:

And speaking of lions--it's not every auto body shop (getting estimates on fixing MUTT MVR's owie) whose lobby contains two life-sized lion guardians.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Training Notes

SUMMARY: Because I do want to improve things.
I don't have anything like a formal list of what to work on or formal tracking sheet showing how much I've done. I'm doing only about 5 minutes a day with each dog--but that's a whole lot more than I had been doing for months.

In the last week, I've worked on:
  • One-jump serps.  Interesting that, when I had moved the dogs far enough away from the jump that they were alongside the teeter, they both did u-turns from a sit-stay to the teeter instead of coming to the jump for the serp. I didn't videotape it, so not sure what the deal was there.
  • Lateral lead-outs (boost only).
  • Just running over jumps (and into tunnels because that's the only way to keep up the speed in this small yard), especially with Boost to just keep her going. And for  me, both behind and ahead and practicing saying "go" or "hup"  or "through" while the dog is NOT directly over a jump.
  • When playing (tossing a toy) for Boost, making her go over jumps first to try to increase the value of going over jumps.
  • Bar-knocking drills with Boost, with tossed treats and with toy.
  • Table-down drills mostly with Tika, mostly with food but some toys.
  • Weave entries from 90-degree angle and steeper.
  • Just with Boost, weave entries when I'm way ahead of her. How come she continues to be able to do them just fine here but not in competition? Grumble.
  • Practicing standing up straight while I'm running (not bending at all), really concentrating on using my arm and body position to indicate obstacles, especially with Tika, who is sometimes having trouble with that now even here in my smaller yard. 
  • Warming myself up by jogging and running until I can run full out without my knee complaining. It really becomes so stiff so quickly these days; I can't rely on it loosening up in the first few running steps any more.
Just a week away from a mongo four-day USDAA trial. I'd like to feel confident that I'm not throwing away my time and money for four whole days in a row.

Once again we're going to try to get Tika's final Team Q to complete her Performance Platinum Tournament. In retrospect, our disaster in December was at that covered Santa Rosa arena where I finally realized this month that there's so much ambient noise that she couldn't hear me, even though her hearing wasn't as bad then as it is now. This time it's outdoors, and I'm hoping that she'll be able to hear me better.

And--like a broken record--I'd really really like to get some Jumpers Qs and SuperQs with Boost. Just sayin'.  So. Another week in which to practice.

I should really make a list and check things off as I work on them.

I should.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Uncanny Coincidences

SUMMARY: Lincoln and Taj MuttHall.

I've been doing a little research and I've discovered that there are many uncanny similarities between Taj MuttHall and Abraham Lincoln.

  • Abe is one syllable; Taj is one syllable. Lincoln is two syllables; MuttHall is two syllables. OoooooOOOO!
  • Abe had a son named Tad; Human Mom has a site named Taj.
  • Lincoln failed in all attempts to be elected to the U.S. Senate; Taj MuttHall has also never been elected to the U.S. Senate.
  • Lincoln married Mary, Taj MuttHall is merely merry.
  • If you rearrange the letters in Abraham Lincoln, they spell "Oh Man! Brain call," and if that doesn't apply to Taj MuttHall, I don't know what does!
  • Abraham Lincoln was a mere 56 years old when he was shot in a theater.
    Taj MuttHall Human Mom is a mere 56 years old and has tickets to the theater for tomorrow night. I hope there aren't any uncanny further coincidences occurring at that venue. I can assure you that I will not drive there in a Ford.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Then And Now

SUMMARY: In honor of National Puppy Day.
March 23 is National Puppy Day (at least per this organization). In honor of puppies, a look back.


Tika at 9 months from the rescue site and Tika today.

Over the years, I've thought that she has looked more and more wolflike and less and less Aussie-like. Now I can really see why--the ears no longer tip over nicely; her colors have faded and merged considerably through the years; her coat has become fuller.

Update April 12,2012: A friend who hadn't seen us in a couple of years stopped by today and said that Tika's coat looks so much paler than she remembers. Maybe that fading is a recent, age-related thing after all.


Boost at maybe 6 weeks (before I adopted her) and a year ago.

I loved the very light gray as a puppy, but she has darkened considerably, as her mother also did. When she was younger, her left ear was distinctly gray compared to her black right ear, but now it's not nearly so obvious.

Puppies are so darned cute! But you sure can't use them to judge what the dogs will look like when they're all growed up.

Random Things Around Town

SUMMARY: A lazy blogging day.

If you're like me and love--I mean really LOOOOVVVVVE sprinkles on your ice cream, would you be happy paying $1.37 an ounce in 1.25-ounce bottles as found in pretty much any grocery store around? Sometimes even more than that? How can stores justify charging that much for those tiny bottles? I think you're mostly paying for the plastic, because there are about 2 servings of sprinkles in those little guys.

Or would you go to Smart and Final, buy a mongo 17-ounce jar that'll last you a month or two, and pay a mere 35 cents an ounce? Can you say ice-cream ecstasy?!


You've seen those ubiquitous, low-paid workers waving signs around streetside to draw your attention to a store or business, right? As I pulled up to the stoplight the other day, I thought there was something odd about this particular person holding up the sign--not a lot of waving going on. REALLY cheap labor.


Ever since a big wind storm a few weeks back, coming home from agility class in the hills, this dragon's head has been lying in my headlights on the far side of the T intersection. I wonder what happened to the rest of his body?


I'm thinking that I need a new office chair. It's just my disarming personality, I guess.


There's a street in Palo Alto that's blocked in the middle from through traffic, and they planted trees in the barrier. Apparently someone decorates them differently every month. Update March 27: "Anonymous" reader found this link that explains it. On the weekly 5-mile walk with the Sierra Club Wednesday night, we were a bit awed by the vibrant spring decor.

A little bird is ready for spring.

Fellow Sierra Clubber camouflaged by the lights. It really brightened up our night, so to speak.

Monday, March 19, 2012

C-ATCH 48 Hours, C-ATE 2 Weeks

SUMMARY: My Little Agility Champion! And My Good Ol' Agility Multichampion!

Boost was freaked out by the whole post-C-ATCH run process. Normal process: get leash, tug on leash, go pick up riot tug that we left outside the ring, tug on that back to the crate, get some treats and loving, get collar back on, go into crate.

Instead, it was tug on leash, someone else comes into the ring and hands Human Mom stuff to distract her, leash goes back on the ground, mom sends dog around some obstacles without even a sit-stay, then leash tug, then riot tug, then take those away and go sit in the driveway while strange people make funny noises at you.

She was a little uncertain about it all.

Tika's hearing, plus some good runs from both Merle Girls
Tika and I had a rough weekend. As I noted in Saturday's post, there was far too much ambient noise for whatever state her hearing is currently in, and if she's having vision issues, too (still not entirely clear about that, no pun intended), then the darkness in the ring and the light around the outside probably didn't help.  You can see how hesitant she is about things in these videos--I'm not the greatest handler, but hesitation and uncertainty have never been her traits before-- she's taking more strides between obstacles, looking at me a lot-- Watching her gait in the videos, it looks kind of old and stilted, but on the ground with her, it just felt hesitant to me.

Tika, Saturday Standard:

Her Sunday Jumpers course was pretty nice, parts felt like good old Tika, but still Chaps' time was more than a second faster, and given that we probably beat them more than half the time until recently, I can tell that she's slowing down.

In Tika's Full House on Saturday, that point-accrual game where, historically, we've aimed to be (and usually were) the highest scoring dog at the whole trial--but here, Tika hesitates and then runs past the Aframe, checking in with me constantly--and we run out of time long before I expected that we would.

In comparison, here's Boost's Full House, in which we collected way more points than anyone else, even though my handling after the tire wasn't the best:

Boost also had a really nice gamblers run on Saturday; kept all her bars up, had some really nice turns (and some wide ones that were my fault) and our timing on heading to the gamble was impeccable. The only thing that went wrong was that she didn't stick the Aframe in the gamble, so I was wayyy out of position when she came over the next to the last jump.

The Race!
Sunday's Colors was a really fast little course, so I placed bets (verbal only) with my fellow score-tabler on how fast my dogs would do it. Because what's an agility dawithout some gambling? We had seen a couple of fast runs in the 14-15 second range, and one really fast one at 13.28. So I bet 10.5 seconds for Boost and 13.56 for Tika.

Here's Tika's--I got her as riled up as I could figure out how before the run, basically ran off the line with her, tried to get her as excited as possible during the run and to be right in front of her most of the run to keep her confidence up; she ended with 14.61, so my guess was off by a second, and that made her merely the 7th fastest dog of the 60 who ran that course. Naturally, three of those dogs were in her exact class of 7 dogs, sheesh.

Here's Boost's run--she didn't need any revving up, never does at this age. She's still taking extra strides and hesitating to look at me at the beginning, then again at the very end, when she's ahead of me, taking an extra step and starting to turn her head and ears towards me at each jump, but I'm just close enough to keep her from actually pulling off a jump. Still, those slowed us down enough that her actual time was 12.72, so I was TWO seconds off for her--and, dang, she knocked a bar. But that was THE fastest time of all 60 dogs.

Next fastest was our friend & arch-nemesis Chaps. He doesn't always look that fast, but his time was 12.79, so we barely beat him. They're so efficient and he's just a big dog with a long stride. Hard to compare directly, though, because in Colors you pick your course and they did the other option-- also, the camera people seemed to have had it in for Chaps. I tried to get their Jumpers run for comparison, but the video was cut off halfway through. So I got the colors run instead--and now I see that *that's* cut off halfway through, too. Weird.

The worst of it...

But, sadly, Boost and I had all the same kinds of troubles that we usually have. In Sunday's Standard, she didn't bother with the 2nd jump in a lead-out pivot, although I guarantee she's lined up to look right at it. Next, I needed her to take the jump after the Aframe, waited until she was looking at it to release her, and she came right in to me instead, forcing me to do a rear cross that I didn't want to do and sure enough she refuses the jump when I try it. Then she turns instantly out of the tunnel looking for me instead of for the next obstacle, resulting in some spinning before the following jump, then although she's got quite a lot of room to get into the weaves, she skips the entry (I think the only time this weekend, but still...), then at the last jump, although I'm running pretty hard (sure doesn't look like it, but as I said, I'm not a great athlete) right at it, and she just stops and turns to look at me and spins past it. SIgh.

My new dog and I have a lot of work to do.

And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make
Still and all, it is like a weight has been lifted from my heart, to get both dogs through their major CPE titles, and so close together. Happiness is a C-ATCH puppy, and here we are right after that C-ATCH run. (Thanks, Chaps' Human Mom, for photos again.)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Weekend's End

SUMMARY: The aftermath.
Am still so glad that I'm just done with Boost's C-ATCH and Tika's C-ATE. Now I can concentrate on other things. Like USDAA, like making progress on my new dog Boost's issues, which are just as rampant in CPE as they are in USDAA, just not penalized as much.

This weekend was quite freeing in a couple of ways:

First, none of the runs except Boost's Saturday Colors felt like they counted for anything--in a good way. I'm not going to try for 230 more Qs for Boost to get her C-ATE or another 230 for Tika's C-ATE-2, and there's really nothing in between. So all of our runs were strictly for fun--and ribbons and glory if we could get them. That really did make them all seem much more fun.

Second, really acknowledging that Tika's hearing problems are responsible for a lot of what's going on on the courses made me feel that I could just concede everything that went wrong to Tika's aging, not to any training or handling issues, and enjoy her just for still being here and having all those years of experience.

I'm sure that this won't all carry over to USDAA, but I do want to keep on doing USDAA and see how well and how far we can go.

Meanwhile, here's Boost's C-ATCH Colors run. You'd think it would be easy to Q on a course with a mere 9 or 10 obstacles. But it has taken us a while. Bars finally stayed up!

And our victory lap. Woohoo! Boost was a little freaked out by the whole abnormal way her time in the ring ended, but she does love running, especially when tunnels are involved.

Other videos are still uploading to YouTube, so maybe more tomorrow.

I had a whole lot of other things that I was going to say, but at the moment I'm thinking strictly in terms of how quickly I think I could fall asleep if I put my head down on my pillow. With visions of Boost's C-ATCH pole and Tika's C-ATE pole dancing in my head.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Yet Another CPE Saturday

SUMMARY: In which Tika is definitely deaf and Boost tackles Colors--yet again--to try to complete her championship.

I never before realized how much ambient noise there is in the arena here at Santa Rosa, not until I realized that my merely 11-year-old dog is losing her hearing. At home, she's --almost suddenly--no longer hearing me when I arrive home, and only sometimes when I come up the wooden stairs. Our January trial here was where I melted down a bit, in part because I couldn't understand why Tika was ignoring me.

Well, today, she was so uncertain in so many places in her runs, and when she was feeling certain, she was fast and completely oblivious to anything I was yelling (and clapping my hands, too). So I'm thinking that I'm just not going to try trialing with her up here any more; just too crazy-making for both of us. I came this weekend, however, knowing that her hearing is greatly compromised, so I treated every run as simply a chance to go out and try to have fun (no titles to chase, no expectations), and so we had a good day despite Qing only 3 of 5 runs.

Boost started the day by winning Gamblers (Jackpot)--a traditional one--with 62 points, one of the highest at the entire trial. Kept all her bars up did all her weaves beautifully, no refusals or runouts. In Full House, she had the highest points at the entire trial, but I threw away four of them in a fit of annoyance when she ran past a jump on the way to stop the clock and I turned around and made three additional attempts until she actually took the bloody jump. But she kept all her bars up, did nice weaves, no runouts or refusals until that last one, etc. Feeling pretty good.

In Snooker, though, it was a bit of a meltdown--did a very long leadout beautifully to start with a 1-7, but then knocked hte next 1 and although we fumbled and recovered, she then knocked the next numbered bar, and was bouncing around frantically, so I just ran her to the table to end the bar-knocking and brain overload.

In Wildcard, she also knocked a bar.

Not looking good as we approached our Colors run, since knocked bars have been what has held us back in Colors all along, and what kept us from getting her Championship the last two weekends. For some odd reason, the judges obstinately keep designing Colors courses with jumps in them, so I picked the one that looked like I could most easily be in the right place at the right time and hoped for the best.

After three other dogs who've collectively earned--oh, lordie, a dozen championships in different organizations at different levels, I didn't think that a CPE Championship would be that big a deal to make me nervous, but I was, once again, running with my heart pounding in my throat as I did a long lead-out past two jumps, released her, and hoped for the best. We had one really wide 180-degree turn where I didn't signal tightly (partly because I didn't want to risk her knocking the first jump in the turn), but she kept her bars up, went really fast, made her weave entry beautifully and stayed in--and then I was at the finish line with all the bars left up and a new Agility Champion! W00t!

And thank dogs that's over!

She also won her group in Colors and had, I think, the 3rd fastest time of all the dogs who ran it--under 12 seconds for 9 obstacles (I didn't note the yardage yet so not sure of her yards per second, but I'll bet it was high). But when we did our victory lap, I sent her over jumps in a straight line and through a couple of tunnels, and she really demonstrated her Hi C-Era Interstellar Propulsion capability--wowed the cheering audience with her amazing speed.

If only we could do straight lines with easily visible tunnels all the time!

So tomorrow is more just complete fun for both dogs, just do the classes we signed up for, no worries about titles or Qs, just try to do the best I can with the girls I've got--with my still-fresh C-ATE for Tika and my brand-new C-ATCH for Boost. Yowza.

(I'll try to post photos and video tomorrow evening or Monday.)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Evening Views of San Jose

SUMMARY: Almost Phraseless Phriday.
Santa Clara Valley (San Jose et cal)--seen here--has had no measurable rain in the last three days, while the mountains in the distance received 8 inches on Wednesday alone. Similar huge disparities have occurred around the Bay Area this week, enough so that it has even the National Weather Service meteorologist puzzled. Still, we've had all the clouds, with moisture enough to flip the windshield wipers once or twice, and the result is crystal-clear air across the valley.

To top it off, Venus and Jupiter are blazing away in the western sky--even if we couldn't see stars, for a brief few minutes, the clouds thinned enough that we could see the planets. Go out and look near, and just after, sunset wherever you are--Mercury is near the horizon, Venus and Jupiter above. Quite a display.

If only I ever bothered to get the tripod out of the car to try for some crystal-clear photos. You guys have to take what you can get. (P.S. The night clouds aren't really as bright as you see here--that's a longish exposure time.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Knee

SUMMARY: ...is wearing out.

I saw my knee surgeon today for the first time since my surgery in November 2006. Went in because it has been doing two "funny" things: suddenly catching painfully on one side or the other, making it difficult to walk, sometimes for several minutes; or sudden weakness when i'm fatigued, feeling like it's going to buckle--but only sometimes, not with every step, and not all the time.

He looked at the xrays, checked my knee, asked some questions, and said, yup, arthritis very visible, getting pretty intense in that right knee (only a tiny smidgen of maybe arthritis in my other knee, go figure), and symptoms are typical of that. It is on track to becoming a knee-replacement candidate at some time in the future. He said it's possible that the symptoms could also indicate some minor damage to the menisci, although even MRIs are hard to read in that area so impossible to really know without going in and looking..

Meanwhile, anti-inflammatories (do prescription drugs for that all the time and have for years), additional pain meds if I need them (mostly not), cortisone injection into knee if pain gets too bad and persists (I'm nowhere near that at the moment), arthroscopic surgery again if I really want, but not clear whether he'd be able to do much while in there (that doesn't sound promising).

Things to try now:
  • Glucosamine/chondroitin: He says about half his patients get some relief with this.
  • Lose weight: He notes that every pound of body weight adds about 4 lbs of pressure to the knee joint.
  • More physical therapy to find ways to strengthen other parts to support the knee.
Dang arthritis.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Filling In the Blanks

SUMMARY: CPE paperwork.

  • CPE has 7 classes: Standard, Jumpers, Wildcard, Colors, Jackpot (aka Gamblers), Snooker, and Full House.
  • CPE has 6 levels (1 through 5, and C)
  • Dogs who have earned titles in other organizations can start at Level 3, which is what I did with Remington and Boost. (More on Jake, below.)
  • Currently, to complete a numbered level (e.g., level 2), you need twice that many Q[ualifying score]s (e.g., 4)  in Standard and that many Qs (e.g., 2)  in each of the other classes. 
  • Variant: It was different when Remington, Jake, and Tika were working on their C-ATCHes--fewer were required at each level--but it changed to this current system while Boost was only halfway through her Level 3 titles.
  • Completing your Level 5 is your C-ATCH.
  • After completing Level 5, you can optionally move to Level C, the level with the most strict qualifying requirements, to work on your C-ATE. (You can also opt to stay in level 5 and earn multiple C-ATCHes. Lots of people do this. We, however, think that we always like the highest level of challenge.)
Here are the trusty pieces of paper that traveled around in my trial gear for a very long time, to show how many Qs we've had to earn to get to where we are.

Jake's C-ATCH:
When CPE first started, if your dog had a championship in another organization, you could start at Level 4, which is what I did with Jake.  So, between that and the lower number of required Qs, Jake needed 48 Qs to work his way up to his C-ATCH.

Tika's C-ATCH:
I made the mistake of entering Tika in Level 1 at her first-ever CPE trial because I didn't realize that, once you had a Q at that level, you had to complete everything at that level. So she had to work through all the Qs at level 1 and 2 to get to where my previous dogs *started*.

As a result, she had to earn 88 Qs to get to her C-ATCH. At least the level 1 and 2 courses were pretty easy.

Tika's C-ATE:
Completing 5000 points (up to around 250 Qs) at Level C is your C-ATE. Tika did it with 229 (this sheet has 2 more listed beyond her C-ATE).

Boost's C-ATCH:
I was smarter with Boost and started her at Level 3.

Here's her sheet--still minus that one dang Colors! Two chances this coming weekend to fill in that teasing blank.

Because of the rules change while Boost was still partly in Level 3, she had to earn more Qs in some level 3 and all Level 4 and 5 classes than my other dogs did. When she gets that final Q, she'll have needed 90 Qs--more than Tika needed going all the way up from Level 1, and all at the higher levels.

And Then...
Tika's C-ATE-2 sheet now has 7 Qs on it. Only 220 more to go. :-)

And Boost's C-ATE sheet already has 19 on it. Hmmm... with Boost's lower Q rate, could Tika earn her C-ATE-2 before Boost earned her C-ATE? Hmmm... .... .... but noooo, move along, nothing to see here.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Fill In Unique Title Meaning "Another CPE Weekend"

SUMMARY: Ups and downs, no C-ATCHs.

I went off to Turlock this weekend with high hopes of being a great new handler with my new dog. Of course the challenge is that I have the same old body and mind.

One thing that did occur to me, after about the millionth time in the last couple of years when I've gone into the ring and discovered that my legs or knees weren't working well, was to do more to warm *myself* up. Doh! Before getting the dogs out each time today, I jogged back and forth along the width of the two rings and then did a little sprint. Not much, but I swear it made a difference in the functioning of my lower extremities. I mean, really, doh!

Our successes were lesser and greater than last weekend:

  • Last weekend, Tika Qed 10 for 10; this weekend, only 7 for 10.
  • Last weekend, Boost Qed 7 for 10; this weekend, only 4 for 10.
  • Last weekend, Tika won only 2 classes, the ones where Chaps wasn't running. This weekend, no Chaps, but yes Brenn (another long-time partner and genial rival (as in, "Oooooh, Brenn beat us by a dang twentieth of a second!"); I didn't make a note in every class, but I *think* Brenn won 6 out of the 10 classes; Tika won Jumpers and today's Jackpot; Boost won today's Full House.
  • Last weekend, I don't think that we had the highest scores (or even close to it) on any of the point-accumulation games; this weekend, in the nontraditional Jackpot, Tika had the highest points (67) of everyone else entered in the trial except for 2 small fast dogs who had 5 more seconds than we did in the double-your-points period (they had 70 and 84 pts); in the Full House, Boost had more points (44) than anyone entered in the trial except one small fast dog who had 5 seconds more time (46). So that was a good way to end the weekend's last two classes.
This weekend, for Tika:
  • No bars down that I remember.
  • No particularly slow tunnels.
  • Pulled off a couple of tunnels again--this is also new in the last very few months, and keeps happening.
  • Didn't hit her teeter contact when I veered off to get ahead laterally--she used to be rock solid on going into the yellow on the ground before leaving. 
  • Had a particularly nice Jumpers run; she's so good on course at adjusting for my mistakes. But still a long way slower than Back In The Day when she used to have close to the fastest course times in Jumpers.
This weekend, for Boost:
  • Ran entirely past sets of 6 weaves twice, but got a lot of others nicely. Popped out of one set of 6 when I held back and sent her.
  • Is doing "two on two off" SOOOOO off the side of the teeter, not even trying to go forward. Must must must work on this a lot.
  • Left a couple of contacts w/out a release in those exciting point-accumulation games.
  • Bars, runouts, refusals (someone not familiar with her asked me after one of her runs, "What's with her not taking that jump right in front of her?"  Yeah, that's what I've been asking for years!) galore.
  • Did well on a couple of lateral lead-outs, didn't veer around the jumps to get to me.
  • Had a really nice Full House run.
I can't even remember the last time I've had to pull either dog because they didn't stay at their start line while I led out, and I did some really long lead-outs this weekend. At least a year, maybe longer.  Pleased about that. Tika still often stands up and takes a step or two forward, but hasn't taken off.

SOOOO next weekend we'll be in Santa Rosa for our last CPE of the crazed CPE consecutive weekends, with TWO chances for that last Colors Q for Boost's C-ATCH, and I sure hope we can polish that off. Would just be nice to get that done.

And now, as always after a busy and tiring agility weekend, looks like bed time. Happy Daylight Savings Time, everyone!

Friday, March 09, 2012

Title Celebrations and the Blue Merle Cycle

SUMMARY: Tika and T-Cam and Tala and Boost, oh my.

A very long time ago, when I was still competing with Remington and Jake, one of my classmates was competing with the dogs she'd brought with her from Argentina, a Doberman and a Spaniel. She was tall and slender and very athletic and accomplished great things with her "nontraditional" agility dogs. At some point, though, her dogs were out of commission, and someone whom I knew only vaguely at the time had a young blue merle Border Collie whom he didn't have time to work with. So this classmate ended up working with the Border Collie in my class. I remember my classmate's frustration with this very driven, very fast blue merle, as she didn't take jumps that seemed obvious to take and knocked bars for no apparently reason, but the classmate worked very hard, and the dog really wanted to learn, and they got better.

That was how I met and came to really admire and enjoy Tala, the blue merle, who several years down the road gave birth to Boost. Tala eventually went back to her owner, who also worked hard with her, ended up in the USDAA nationals finals various times--usually ended with a bar down in the final round, sighhh... But they became an amazingly consistent team who pretty much always Qed and took more blue ribbons than anyone could ever count.

My Argentinian classmate got her own Border Collie (Maja) and has done very well indeed, earning multiple MACHs and ADCHs, competing on the World Cup team for Argentina, cool things like that.

As is the way of things, people come and go into and out of different classes as the classes change shape, as people's schedules vary, and as the needs of their dogs change. So my Argentinian classmate has sometimes been a classmate and sometimes not.

About four years ago, she became my classmate again, and after watching me and Boost in class for a couple of sessions, she came up to me and asked whether Boost was spayed. Because she was starting to think about getting another dog, and she thought that a dog just like Boost, who was very much like Tala, would be just the thing. Well, of course, I had spayed Boost, and that was that.

Shortly after that, Tala became pregnant again--I believe her fourth and final litter--from the same mating that produced Boost. My Argentinian classmate (well, actually, a few years back she became a U.S. Citizen, yeah!) got a blue merle puppy from that litter and named her T-Cam (so she and Boost are full sisters). Well, Boost sure looks like Tala, and T-Cam sure looks like Boost.

Eventually, T-Cam grew up and they have been in our class again for quite a while. It's funny having Tika and T-Cam in the same vicinity--their names sound a lot alike, and I use "Teek" and she uses "Tee" a lot on course as short name cues.

So it seemed fitting that last night I took in TeeKA's huge new C-ATE ribbon--plus cheesecake for our classmates--on the same night that T-Cam's human mom brought in empanadas to celebrate TeeKAM's brand new MACH.

T-Cam is three years old.

I am trying very hard not to compare my seven-year old Boost to her leetle seester. But what did happen was a sudden, brief thought--you know, if I had a dog like Boost again, starting as a puppy, surely I'd not make the same mistakes again. And Boost really is a wonderful companion dog. And T-Cam reminds me so much of Boost in so many mannerisms and running style. And so, during class, I went up to my classmate and asked her whether T-Cam was spayed. Because if I were to get another agility dog... But, alas, it is not to be.

Heck, I didn't really want another dog anyway.

I guess that's closure for this tale.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

I Have This New Dog

SUMMARY: Working on enthusiasm and basic agility skills.

First, see yesterday's post.

Today, I adopted a new Border Collie. Her name is Boost. She's 7 years plus a month old. She has quite a bit of agility training, but apparently the wrong kind of training, because despite her speed and her drive, she has very little to show for it in the agility ring. F'rinstance, she often gets the highest opening points in Masters Gamblers, but who ever notices when she doesn't get the gamble due to a refusal or a bar down? F'rinstance, she sometimes has close to the fastest time in Jumpers, but who notices when she doesn't get the Q due to refusals or bars? Getting the picture?

So her old handler has decided that she needs a different handler, and it turns out that I'm the only one available. So now she has come to live with me, and I need to figure out how to fix almost 7 years of bad habits.

She's the sweetest dog you could want. Not super-affectionate, but not completely stand-offish, either. She will jump onto my lap and lay her head on my shoulder if i really insist. But only for a moment. She loves to play. She's really smart--rumor has it that she learned how to get into a tiny box simply by watching her previous handler teach Tika how to do it.

Today, we started working on attitude and enthusiasm. First, I encouraged myself to actually put on dog-agility clothes before going out into the yard rather than work clothes (ahem, well, my work clothes are jeans and slip-on walking shoes, but ya don't wanna get those jeans dirty before going in to see the client, and those slip-on shoes aren't the best for running in, although it can be done even at agility trials in a pinch).

Next, I encouraged myself to actually set poles on all the jumps and think about a couple of small courses that we could run. Yes, I'm oversubscribed in work and at home at the moment, but really, what difference could taking 15 minutes out of each day really matter to everything else, when it can probably make a huge difference with my new dog and her new handler.

I picked a couple of things to work on:

Like, the table. I watched videos of her old handler saying "Down" and she always leans into and over her dogs. So I'm going to work with both dogs keeping my shoulders back and my head up and work on the speed of the "down". Tika's table down has gotten to be SO slow in competition, it's nuts. Boost hasn't been bad at it lately, actually going down and staying down rather than gradually elevating, but we want to reinforce that. Keep at least one thing going that her previous handler fixed OK!

And, like, supporting my verbal cues with my body. I watched videos of her old handler, running and making a stab at an obstacle with her hand and then pulling the hand back in. So I practiced running while signallling a jump or tunnel with my arm held firmly in that direction until the dog was completely committed.

It may be tough, and maybe today it was easy because it was such a beautiful day, but for enthusiasm and basic agility skills, yes, I think Boost's new handler can learn them! And maybe the new handler can gradually turn Boost into a really fine agility dog.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Blogger Complaint

SUMMARY: How come I can't subscribe to posts?
Sometime in the last couple of months, suddenly on Blogger blogs, there's no longer a checkbox that allows me to subscribe to a post on which I comment. Instead, I have to first post my comment, then click a separate link that takes me to a separate page, where I have to click another link that somehow wants to add the page to my bookmarks, which I don't want to do; I just want to have an email like I always used to have that would tellme that someone else has posted a comment on that post.

I can't figure it out. Anyone else figured out how to make it work the old way?

There's a Price To Pay for Going Over to the Dark Side

SUMMARY: If I knew then what I know now.

Note: Dog agility bloggers are teaming up once every few months to all post on a common theme on the same day. Today is our first combined Dog Agility Blogger Event Day (well--second or third, we actually had an Agility Blogger Action Day some time back), and the topic is "If I knew then what I know now." See the list of other posters here; will be updated throughout the day.

So many people joke in the agility world about "going over to the dark side" after their first agility dog--or two, or three--do OK in agility (or not) but can't beat those beasts who seem to have been designed for the sport: The beautiful, driven, smart, workaholic Border Collies.

I hadn't intended to give in. I've always liked BCs and blue merles. I liked Boost's mom, Tala, long before there was even a vague hint of future puppies. And I just happened to be starting to think about a new dog when Boost's litter came along.

I agonized about the price. I paid $1000 for my rocket-driven girlie, and it was difficult for me to come up with that at the time and very difficult for me to justify when I was pretty sure that, sooner or later, I'd be able to find a rescue, shelter, or rehomed dog for a fraction of the price who'd do just fine. But, yes, I fell in love with her as soon as I broke down and went to spend some time with the puppies.

She has turned out to be a sweet and eager-to-please dog. She has all the drive, speed, and willingness to work that one could ever want from a dog. She was a natural on sheep when introduced to them; she has fabulous herding instinct and it's clear, when she moves into a ring with critters, that herding was what she was born to do.

She also loves doing agility; it is her job, and she loves her job; it is her exercise, and she desperately needs the outlet for her physical and mental energy; and it is her time spent with me, which she also loves beyond pretty much everything except maybe herding (usually other dogs, since we don't see many flocks o' grazing animals in Silicon Valley).

Each of my three previous agility dogs got better and better, as I learned more about handling and about training. She was going to be my best yet.

But she isn't.

As those who sometimes read my blog may know, we have a terrible time with refusals, runouts, and bars going down. Oh, and the recurring weave pole failures.

See, none of my previous three dogs ever had runout or refusal issues. (Definitions: A runout is when the dog runs past the plane of the next obstacle; a refusal is when the dog approaches the obstacle but then doesn't take it, usually by turning back. They actually represent a continuum of behavior--hard to draw the line between where refusals end and runouts begin--and they are scored the same.)

Of my previous three dogs, only Tika had bar-knocking issues, but at its worst, it was never anything like Boost's.

And weave poles--well, Remington was never fast in them, Jake was sometimes not perfect, but Tika has always had awesome weave poles (enters correctly and independently, fairly fast, and stays in until the end), so I figured, yeah!, I've figured out how to train them! But, apparently, not.

Yes, I'm getting to my point.

I'll admit that I'm 7 years older than when I got Boost; I hadn't yet had knee surgery when I got her; and I had competed in only 135 trials when Boost came home with me; I used to train in the yard almost every day and found it exciting and entertaining. Now, I have a crappy knee, crappy hip, additional years of aging that have been starting to show more and more, and another 120 trials under my belt, during most of which I have felt like a failure with Boost. And I have lost my enthusiasm for agility and for training.

How much of it is the been-there-done-that thing? And how much is the sense that I have blown my chance with my dog and don't have a great future to look forward to with her in agility?

Here's the thing: When I read back through my posts about Boost's training and agility experiences in the first couple years of her life, it is all there: The bars, the refusals because my timing is bad or whatever, the inability to do serpentines that cause runouts, the weaves that are on-again, off-again, and even the stupid contact issues that are now plaguing me again: Coming off the side of the teeter instead of streaking to the end. It is all there, all of it.

And I worked on some of it, sometimes. I think that I fell into the trap of thinking that, with experience, things would get better. I mean, things got better with all my previous dogs as we each gained more experience.

In fact, I'm still falling into that trap, as in, "Maybe if I do a ton of CPE trials, where the courses are usually simpler and often smaller (in total distance) than USDAA courses, we'll learn to run more smoothly together." I can safely say, after 4 CPE trials in quick succession, that that is not happening.

The thing that I keep coming back to in understanding why we have problems with things that the other dogs didn't is that she is, first and foremost by instinct and breeding, a herding dog. She stops and changes direction on a dime. She pays utter close attention to things that are moving (sheep, me), not things that are stationary (jumps). She wants to get to where the action is ASAP.

So, if I had known when she was a puppy that, at age seven, she'd have only 3 Jumpers Qs in USDAA after 90 tries, only one Super-Q after 80 tries, almost never any placement ribbons despite her speed even when we do manage to Q (mostly because of time-wasting bobbles on course), here's what I would have done differently:
  • Recognized sooner that Boost is an entirely different kind of machine than my previous three agility dogs and approached her training and my own training in that light.
  • Gotten some coaching on a regular basis on my own fitness and running ability.
  • Made sure that we attended a lot of foundation training classes very early on.
  • Made the effort to rent the big agility field regularly to just let her run in huge loops, full speed, over agility obstacles and not work exclusively in my small yard and the tightly controlled confines of classes.
  • But most importantly, as soon as I realized that I had an issue--something that happened more than two or three times or that we never successfully managed--I'd have gotten help and followed the exercises and assignments closely and determinedly.
I don't know whether it would have helped--I like to think that I have a clue about weave poles, and for the first three years or so I worked aggressively on weave training, and that was never completely fixed, either. But I think we'd have done Oh, so much better.

Now, it's hard to get around the blasé feelings about training, the sense that it doesn't matter and I'll never fix the problems--Boost *is*, after all, already 7 and past her physical prime, just a fact.

It's hard. I did NOT know then what I know now, and it is a challenge for me to let it go, let it go, let it go, and find a new enthusiasm.  It is both an advantage and disadvantage that I know now EVERYTHING that I know now. Because I think that, if I want to be successful, I actually have to forget a lot of what I know now, shed the emotional baggage and history of failure, so to speak, to be able to get a new lease on Boost's agility life and training.

I'm trying to find within myself the energy and enthusiasm that I might have felt if, say, I'd have not gotten another dog, and then had suddenly found myself with Boost in my family, rehomed at age 7 with all of her training and foibles already in place. In other words, give myself a fresh perspective and permission to start over.

(The longer-term If I Knew Then question will be--would I have forsaken agility and taken up herding? But that's something for the distant future.)

P.S. In the end, I am glad that I wrote this post, although I agonized for days about what to say and how to say it, and almost didn't write it because of the pain I feel on this subject and not sure whether I could turn it into something positive--because the insights in the last two paragraphs didn't come until I had written everything else. Let's see whether I can do something with that interesting new perspective.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Another Pretty Darned Good CPE Weekend.

SUMMARY: In which we bring home a pretty darned big ribbon.

As we headed out to Elk Grove very early Saturday for another 10 runs (per dog) of CPE, Boost needed just one Colors for her C-ATCH...and since we'd gotten the last 5 Colors in a row, and since Colors courses are only about 10 obstacles long, I figured our odds were pretty good.

Meanwhile, Tika needed to Q in all 10 classes for her C-ATE, and since she's only managed to do that in CPE once ever, I figured that our chances were pretty slim.

Either way, for either dog, I wasn't too worried about things, since we have two more weekends of CPE coming up in the next two weeks, and we *will* finish those titles. 100% probability.

Tika's Saturday was pretty good. She was sometimes fairly fast and sometimes not; sometimes blasting through tunnels and sometimes not, and a couple tunnels quite slow again. She breezed through her two Standard runs like they were nuthin', did her favorite class (Jumpers) smoothly but not spectacularly, did her traditional-style Jackpot (Gamblers) without even thinking twice about it. In Snooker, I picked a conservative course rather than an aggressive one, and although she popped out of her weaves in the opening sequence--very odd for Tika--she looked more excited than confused, and we picked it up and got the Q anyway. So--5 for 5.

Boost had the usual mixture of speed and brilliance with the all-to-frequent refusals, runouts, and bars. Her first standard was somehow a Q despite running past a jump (same one twice, in fact) and missing her weave pole entry. In her second standard, she turned back before a jump in front of her but all of it looked pretty good until she knocked the next-to-last bar, for an NQ. In the Jackpot, she did beautifully in the opening and placed higher than Tika; in the closing she had a little thing where she came to me instead of finishing on the table but, in the end, completed it, so another Q. I did the same conservative Snooker run with her, and she did it, but only after running past a jump on a lead-out pivot at the beginning.

In Colors, however... Well, there were two options: One course with 7 jumps and several turns; one with only 5 jumps and only a couple of turns. I picked the latter. Just to prove that she really didn't want her C-ATCH this weekend, she knocked *TWO* of those 5 jumps (and ran past one of them).

So, 3 of 5 for Saturday.

At the end of the day, we had enough time to go a-birding, so three of us (Quas's mom (Quas is a Boost half-sister) and Chaps' mom (Chaps is our sometime partner and frequent close competitor on course--I've mentioned him before)) drove out to Cosumnes River Crane Preserve again and went looking for cranes. We did finally see some in the distance and saw quite a flew fly overhead as dark silhouettes, but in the meantime we saw plenty of other birds. This clique of pintail ducks  cracked us up:

On Sunday, Tika started the day with a Standard run that truly impressed a lot of people--I got compliments on it all day long for all sorts of people. Well, OK, sure, it was a clean run, but the impressive thing was that, as she approached the top of the dogwalk's down ramp, she found herself nose to nose with a Papillon who had somehow slipped out of his crate, decided that agility looked like a fun thing to do, and had headed straight up the dogwalk ramp. This sweet little Papillon, in fact:

I wasn't sure what Tika was going to do. I knew it wasn't a dangerous dog-to-dog situation, but I wasn't sure whether she'd maybe jump off or try to turn around. What she did was to issue a tiny rumble of annoyance, then the two of them kind of sniffed noses, and somewhere about then, someone swooped in, scooped up the Papillon, and Tika calmly descended the ramp and stopped in a perfect 2 on/2 off position! First time she's done THAT in competition in years! Then we completed our course for the Q.

Updated March 18 with a correction from the Papillon's person: "Hi There.... I am the owner of the errant papillion. The dog in the picture is not the rascal who climbed up the dog walk with your dog. His name is Cassie and he is my C-ATCH pap. (He says he wants to clear his name!) The culprit was my little 20 mo old level one dog, Wiki, who didn't escape from his crate, but went through a whole in the fencing between the two rings when we were running jumpers. My husband tried to go into the ring to get him but was stopped by the gate steward. Finally, he just sort of pushed past and said "THAT'S my dog. I have to go get him". I couldn't get over the fence and stood there yelling for him like an idiot. Anyway, a friend said she say my pic on the blog so I had to take a look. Not a bad pic. (I usually take terrible pics!) Anyway, thanks for being so gracious about the whole thing."

Her Jumpers was another nice, fairly smooth but not fast course, for a Q. (Yet Another Ellen in attendance and her dog Pepper earned THEIR C-ATE on that jumpers run. Go Ellens!)

Tika's Snooker...well, the smoothest course I could figure out involved three 7s in the opening and due to a couple of wide turns, we missed completing our final seven by, I swear, one weave pole. But it was easily a Q anyway, so happiness reigned.

At this point, we were looking at 8 out of 8 with two classes to go.

Tika didn't seem too concerned about it.

Meanwhile, back at the Boost--she continued with a mixed bag--her Standard run was really nice except where she turned back to me before a jump, so when I spun her around for a second pass at the jump, I was in the wrong position to prevent an off-course at the very next obstacle. Even with that extra obstacle, she had something like the 4th fastest time of the 60ish dogs who ran that course.

Her jumpers run was mostly nice--no bars down--but, sigh, ran past a jump when she locked onto a tunnel that I then barely called her off of, so her time looks really slow. Still, it was a Q. In Snooker, I couldn't get into position quickly enough on two occasions so we had bobbles that slowed our time, but again, she Qed with no bars down and completed the three sevens plus the whole closing.

I had said that I wasn't worried or nervous about Tika's title, but I found myself getting a little  tense around then. The next class was Jackpot, and it is possible for Tika to miss the gamble part. And I couldn't remember what our 5th class of the day was, and so of course we could maybe knock a bar or do something else to disqualify us.

Then--I looked up the last class. Full House! *My* favorite CPE class. It's all about accumulating points.  And--well--in 50 other appearances, Tika has only NQed twice. Once, she came out of a tunnel limping (long time ago, and had already acted sore earlier in the day), and wayyyyy back our 2nd-ever one, she was listed as doing only 2 of the required 3 jumps, the judge couldn't remember, and they can't accept video to prove that she actually did it.  (This is why I now always plan at least 4 jumps in my Full House runs.)

So, in other words, that's a guaranteed Q.

THEN I looked at the Jackpot course--OMG, it's a nontraditional, and in this case, it is a strictly point-accumulation class! Bingo! We just cannot NOT earn a Q on a point-accumulation course...well, unless I get greedy and end up going over time.

So, what happened was-- Boost and Tika both  Qed in Jackpot and both Qed in Full House with a zillion points, and, Huzzah,  Boost was 4 for 5 for the day (7 of 10 for the weekend), and Tika was 10 for 10 for the weekend, and we came home with a REALLY REALLY huge C-ATE ribbon--thank you, Haute Dawgs!

We didn't come home with as much Blue as usual--Chaps and Tika have historically typically ended up trading off wins, but there's no doubt that Tika has slowed and Chaps is two years younger.  Throw Boost's speed into the mix, and--Tika won the 2 classes that Chaps wasn't in, and came in behind Chaps 8 times and behind Boost 5 times (and behind a couple of other dogs a couple of times), thereby pushing her into 2nd or 3rd place mostly. But still, out of 9 to 10 dogs in their Level C height class, that's nothing to be ashamed of.

Guess I'm not unpacking the car tonight--this took longer to type than I thought. G'nite, all.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Can She Hear Me Now?

SUMMARY: The old Craussie's hearing is pretty much confirmed as deficient now.

Yah, posted on Facebook first, so reposting with people's advice and their own experiences.